“Now, if you’re thinking it seems more than a little heavy-handed to legally codify the responsibilities of under-18s in private households, then I agree, but check your liberal sensibilities for just a moment. There’s a surprisingly progressive detail in the Rights and Duties of Children Bill that’s worth noting: the “co-responsibility in caring for the home and performing household tasks” shall be carried out “regardless of… gender”.
“Hurrah! Reading the sex equality provision for these put-upon kids made me cheer, because its opposite has such dire consequences: gender inequality in childhood leads to stultified, ill-equipped adults.
“Its effects have certainly been noticeable to me. While my own household was fairly progressive, many of my friends, both male and female, were inculcated with gender stereotypes inside their homes from a young age.I can remember the visceral, fist-clenching resentment I felt whenever I alone was asked to cook and lay the table, while a young male friend was allowed to continue watching telly, or, at a push, was asked to zoom around the garden with a mower or wield a drill.
“The “male” tasks always seemed so much more fun. More sporadic too: John might be asked to fill up the log basket by the fire once a week, but Jane was expected in the kitchen every evening.
“Most importantly, the division of these seemingly trivial tasks forces an inchoate awareness of invidious normative gender stereotypes on children from a dangerously impressionable age.After discovering feminist theory in my early teens, my resentment about the household competence and domestic serenity expected of me and my female friends grew. In the spirit of equality, I spared a thought for male friends who might have loved specific “female” hobbies such as baking or sewing, but the majority of chores are, by their nature, dull and unenviable.I never had a problem helping out. I didn’t mind washing up or cleaning; what grated immensely was the overwhelming sense conveyed by many adults that this was “women’s work” and inappropriate for young men. Of course boys had their own realm of obligations, the thinking went; they could help out with DIY occasionally or heavy lifting now and then, but not… vacuuming.Well, the risk is that those boys turn into entitled men, wholly without self-sufficiency in domestic matters. And those girls either get angry and rebel, or else become cossetted women, unable or unwilling to change a lightbulb and perhaps constrained within domestic horizons in their longterm ambitions.I’m not having a swipe at housewives or stay-at-home mothers who choose a domestic-orientated life, not at all. It’s simply that if we want a society of well-adjusted, self-sufficient adults, we must make sure we equip children for all facets of life and give them an element of choice in their future lives. And to do that, we must ensure that male and female children share equal obligations.Legalistic Spain has clearly come to the same conclusion too. It expects equality of its adults, having enshrined legal sanctions against married men who refuse to do housework in 2005, but this latest law for children suggests that the nation now realises equality can’t just be enforced after marriage, it needs to begin in childhood.”